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A Constant State of Worry

A Guide to Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Everyone experiences anxiety sometimes. Nerves flare before a presentation at work, during holiday travels, and when your to-do list starts piling up. However, when the anxiety presents without a trigger and starts to affect daily life, it could be Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder experience persistent worry, even when there’s no reason for concern. They may worry about their health, job, or family and constantly anticipate the worst-case scenario.

GAD is diagnosed when a person experiences consistent anxiety for six months or longer and is unable to control their worry. A person with GAD may also experience insomnia, headaches, irritability, sweating, nausea, fatigue, poor concentration, or other symptoms as a result of the disorder.

How does GAD differ from other anxiety disorders?

Generalized anxiety disorder can present in any situation. However, other types of anxiety disorders have specific triggers. People with social anxiety disorder experience fear of judgment and rejection in social situations, a person with a phobia has an irrational fear of a thing or situation, like spiders or enclosed spaces, and a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder engages in repetitive actions as a result of obsessive, unwanted thoughts. Learn more about the types of anxiety disorders at Talkspace.

What is living with GAD like?

GAD can feel inescapable for people with the disorder. Anxiety and self-doubt creep into every aspect of life, leading to problems at work, school, and personal relationships. Not only does self-doubt hold people with GAD back from realizing their full potential, but the physical symptoms of anxiety also make it difficult to keep up with daily life.

What are the long-term effects of GAD?

GAD doesn’t only affect day-to-day life, it also contributes to long-term health problems. Anxiety is linked to heart problems like high blood pressure and heart disease, memory loss, and digestive problems including Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

How can you manage life with GAD?

Anxiety disorders have a high potential for self-help, although self-management can’t replace professional mental health treatment. Exercise, breathing techniques, and mindfulness practice help people with GAD manage stress and calm themselves in the face of anxiety.

Although it’s tempting to avoid triggers to cope with anxiety, exposure is better for reducing anxiety symptoms. While avoidance reinforces the irrational thoughts fueling anxiety, exposure teaches people with anxiety that their fears are unfounded and the situations that trigger their anxiety are, in fact, safe.

Nutrition also plays a role in managing anxiety disorders. Since blood sugar swings worsen mood imbalances, people with anxiety should eat foods that offer slow-release energy, such as complex carbohydrates and protein-rich foods. Vitamin deficiencies are another important factor, with vitamin B deficiencies, in particular, affecting moods. Taking a daily multivitamin with a complete vitamin B complex can reduce anxiety symptoms as part of a broader treatment plan.

Can GAD be treated?

Treatment greatly increases the quality of life for people with GAD. For some people, treatment completely eliminates anxiety symptoms.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most highly-recommended treatment for GAD, and patients who receive CBT are less likely to relapse than patients treated with medication alone. Your doctor may recommend medication in conjunction with psychotherapy. SSRIs and SRNIs are the most commonly prescribed drugs for treating anxiety, but benzodiazepines and other medications may also be used.

Everyone worries, but if worry is getting in the way of your life, it’s time to do something about it. Instead of letting anxiety hold you back, talk to your doctor about diagnosing and treating your Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  

Dorothy Watson is an advocate for mental wellness. Her personal experience having a mother with bipolar disorder gave her insight into the world of mental health.
Dorothy Watson grew up with a single mother who suffered from bipolar disorder. Her mom wasn't properly diagnosed until Dorothy was about 12-years-old, so she saw her mom struggle for a long time. Since she has seen how hard life can be for people whose mental health hasn't been properly addressed, she is an advocate for mental wellness.
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